How I found out I’m no relation to Mary MacKillop
For as long as I can remember I have been asked how tall I am at least once every day. I can understand why. I am six foot seven inches tall, towering over most people.
My exact height is not the only thing I am regularly asked by complete strangers, they often ask whether my parents fed me Weetbix as a child (they did) and how the weather is ‘up there’ (it is invariably the same).
But something strange has been happening lately. For the first time in my life, questions relating to my height, its causes and its metrological consequences have been diminishing. A new line of enquiry dominates the minds of the people I meet.
“Are you any relation to Mary?”
You see, my surname is MacKillop. As the latest and most intense round of Mother Mary fever began to sweep Australia last December, enquiries went through the roof and I was posed with a problem, I had no idea whether Mary and I are related or not.
I remember the confusion when I moved to Australia from the UK in the early 1990s and every now and again someone would call me Mary.
In the UK at the time, the public knew little about Australia’s potential first saint. The first time that I heard about her was while I was threatening to use my then six foot three inch height to bring harm to those who would use this emasculating slur against me, hardly behaviour befitting the descendant of a saint.
Of course, by descendant of a saint, I do not mean direct.
As a poster girl for 19th century virgins, Mary had no children of her own, nor did any of her seven brothers and sisters. Any modern day members of her bloodline would have to be descended from Mary’s uncles and aunts.
The chances of a link are low. MacKillop was quite a common name in 19th century Scotland and is not rare today. However, my grandfather was born in the north of Scotland, the same general area that Mary’s family were from, which meant that the possibility was there.
My standard response whenever I was asked whether or not there was familial link between Mary and I was to pretend as though it was the first time that I had been asked the question. This was in order to remain polite and allow the enquirer to maintain the self-illusion of originality, but I would always go on to claim ignorance of the matter.
Following the confirmed second miracle and the pending canonisation, I was claiming ignorance far too often for my liking, so I decided to find out the truth once and for all.
While searching the internet, I came across a local newspaper story about a McKillop family from the Townsville region, who are confirmed descendants of Mary, despite the spelling. I did my best to contact John McKillop through the journalist who wrote the story, who passed on my details to him. I heard nothing from John.
Presumably, he did not sense a family connection.
Undeterred, I decided to seek counsel from the people I knew would never turn me away, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart themselves.
I emailed the order requesting their help and a very nice nun, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s research archivist, replied promptly and offered to see if there was a connection. I sent her information about my father and grandfather and eagerly awaited her reply, giddily imagining the kinship I would feel with this sister once she confirmed my link to the Blessed Mary.
I was brought down to reality when her reply contained no such confirmation, but nor did it contain a dead end. While the sister was not able to see a connection from these two generations, she believed that it was worth looking back further. She offered to conduct the necessary research, all I had to do was provide her with a copy of my family tree.
Another problem. As a thirty year old living in this modern world of ours, I do not have a family tree. I have an iPod and a credit card, but no family tree. It became apparent that I needed professional help.
I contacted genealogist Alistair Kennedy of Marque Research who, like the nun, kindly agreed to help. I supplied him with the little information that I had, answered a few questions and he set about his sacred work.
Generation by generation, Alistair told me about my paternal ancestors.
My grandfather had three sisters, two more than I originally thought. His father was named Donald, the same name as my father and grandfather, which follows ancient Scottish naming traditions. Then and there I felt like painting my face in blue stripes and declaring that no one would take my freedom.
While I was getting carried away by my newly confirmed Highland heritage, Alistair was still unable to make a link between my ancestors and Mary. So far all the members of my paternal line lived on Harris, an island in the Hebrides, off the coast of western Scotland.
Mary’s family were from Roybridge, a town on the mainland.
Alistair continued to go back through more generations of my family, to my great-great-grandfather Norman who was born in 1824, my great-great-great-grandfather Donald, born in 1790 and my great-great-great-great grandfather, another Norman, born circa 1760.
Even at this point, five generations in my family’s past, there was still no link between Mary MacKillop’s family and mine. Reliable records from earlier in Scotland’s history are scarce, but even if we could access the information, Alistair believes that the chance of there being a link is now very slim.
His reasoning is based on the fact that Norman and Donald are common names in my family, while not appearing anywhere in Mary’s line, and that unlike today, people from the 18th century and before rarely moved out of their local area. My family tree is consistently from the Hebrides, Mary’s from the mainland.
So it seems that the case is closed and finally, I have an answer to satisfy enquirers’ curiosity.
Hello, my name is Scott MacKillop. I am six foot seven and I am not related to Mary.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…